The topic of handwriting has become more and more prevalent in news across the country. In this digital age, just where does such a skill fit? How does this analog skill fit into the digital landscape? How much time should be spent teaching students proper cursive and how much time should they spend developing and practicing this skill? Isn’t this like practice butter churning? Moreover, there is even a debate about the importance of cursive versus printing.
If you are a parent of a young child (or an educator of young children), this whole subject can be quite confusing. Of course you want what is best for your child(ren). You want them to possess the skills necessary to succeed in school and in life. You want learning to be a lifelong and joyful journey. So, what is one to do in the face of such controversy? Well, I can’t settle the debate once and for all in the scope of this blog. However, I can offer some well substantiated advice.
1) I can emphatically state that handwriting, whether it is printing or cursive, is definitely important for literacy development, especially in early childhood. The body of research in education and neuroscience is clear in this respect. (See this research summary for more information).
2) Handwriting practice in early childhood also develops fine motor skills and dexterity. This is also clearly established to facilitate learning and success in school. Practicing these skills while young will, logically, help children develop better handwriting. Students with better handwriting earn higher grades and are better able to keep pace with the curriculum. Additionally, research has demonstrated that handwriting activates children’s brains more than typing. The more we activate children’s brains, the more we help them build important neural pathways. Likewise, the more we help them connect new knowledge to previous knowledge, the better that knowledge is stored in the long-term memory.
3) Taken handwritten notes requires children (and adults) to slow down and process information more than typing does. Proficient typists can copy virtually word for word was is being said, but their brains aren’t processing it and they won’t retain the information. For example, skilled court stenographers can read a book simultaneously while recording the proceedings of the courtroom. When I learned that fact, it blew my mind! But it’s true. And, guess what? Those stenographers do not retain the knowledge of the courtroom proceedings. They have developed that skill so proficiently that it becomes automatic. In one ear and out the fingertips, so to speak. Taking handwritten notes, however, requires the brain to get involved and digest the information in order to make meaningful notes. This processing activates the brain more and thus helps instill that information into memory. It also helps the brain make new connections in the moment. Typing notes is more akin to creating a transcript that one can go back to later and then process the information – delaying the actual learning.
With my new company, Drawn to Discover, we have seen the research and we have seen firsthand the power of the pen and pencil. That is why we are dedicated to bringing parents, educators, and children the powerful and fun lessons from Wendy Halperin directly into homes and classrooms across the country. Obviously, we do not reject technology and its important place in the world and in learning. However, we also know that handwriting is far from a lost art. Thus, we seek to marry the benefits of technology with the importance of teaching fine motor skills through handwriting and art. This marriage is Drawn To Discover. I hope you will join us in this more perfect union.